Tag Archives: indigo

Simple, pleasurable embroidery

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I have been embroidering some small bags.  They came with crowd sourced underwear (organic, fair trade) in them, with all the good information about the product printed onto unbleached calico.  Seven bags in all!  I decided to convert them to loveliness and started with dyeing them in indigo.  They are all slightly different shades of blue, some having been dipped more times than others.

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I am not a sophisticated embroiderer.  But I keep being given cast off embroidery thread, so there was no shortage of thread and no shortage of portable canvases for stitching.

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So I tried several patterns and admit I still enjoy the spiral most of all.

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One of the bags went travelling with my Mum when she was looking for a simple project, so then there were six.

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And after all these adventures in stitching, there is yet one waiting to be embroidered.

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I learned some things about how to store embroidery thread from the heritage items that have come to me, some of them in tangles, some in the original skeins, and some wrapped on cardboard shapes that keep the thread neat without taking up a lot of space and using something that comes into the house all the time.  Thank you to those women whose hands have held these threads already and whose minds have touched mine however distantly in this way.

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In the middle of all this my mother-out-law sent me her stash of embroidery threads in pastel colours, so some of them have gone into the project too.  So much pleasure from running stitch…

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A little bag of cards

I have been very much enjoying adding to India Flint’s Wandercards.

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One of my beloved friends said something about them that made me think she might like a set of her own.  Well, they won’t be a set of India’s lovely cards, but nevertheless, a set of plant dyed cards with quotes that might help her to keep her heart full and her courage blazing through tough times.

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I wish I could make cards as beautiful as those India selected,–beautiful paper with rounded corners and such–but I decided to embrace the imperfection and do what I could.

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Then there was the question of a suitable bag.  I thought I’d make one, but then I realised I already had a perfect bag.  Here I am on a train, embroidering on it and listening to an audio book.  Audio books and podcasts make public transport so pleasurable!

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And so, a set of cards and a little bag for them to live in, packaged up and ready to send to their new home!  I know my friend will add quotes from her favourite poets and sources of inspiration.

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Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing

Fleece processing, dyeing and spinning

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Over the holiday, more local fleeces arrived.  This is the view down into a chicken feed sack full of greasy fleece.  I washed, I dried wet fleece in summer heat, I even managed to do some carding. I now have various wools dyed with woad or indigo exhausts as well as good old naturally brown or grey wool. I have taught a few beginners to dye at our evening spinning group at the Guild in the last while (or at least, I’ve been one of the people helping them to learn) and sometimes people are just so overcome at being given wool.  In the future they will know that the real gift is time and effort. But I do try to let them know that I have a lot of wool and that I am happy to share.

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People were generous to me as a beginner spinner, and I love to share spinning (as well as wool).  I finally spun some llama fleece a friend at the Guild gave me in the spirit of adventure.  It came out OK but it did have a lot of guard hair in it, so I’ll have to give thought to what it might become.

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Here’s a another skein–woad on grey, I believe.

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And here are indigo and indigo dyed over yellows. I realise it is better practise to dye blue first and yellow after, but, well, I didn’t like the yellows too much and just decided to dye and see!  I love these colours. But my thoughts are beginning to turn toward eucalypts and their oranges and reds again…

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing, Spinning

Plumbing the depths of indigo ignorance

Now for something totally out of its logical place in the order of things. Before I went to Allansford, I decided to go all out in exploring the depths of my ignorance.  It’s my observation of learners that many of us over estimate what we know.  We haven’t grappled with our own ignorance sufficiently to realise what a teacher has to offer us.  We haven’t applied what we think we know enough to realise where its outer edges are.

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I decided on an all out attempt to use my stock of knowledge and supplies to find the limits of my own understanding. I’d been itching to dye and unable to find time, so holidays were a gift.  I had multiple attempts to dye with woad and then turned over to dyeing with what indigo I still had.  I used up my remaining fructose, and couldn’t find more.  So I experimented with sad fruit from the bargain pile at the local shops. I also collected fallen fruit and such. I read all the books and instructions again.  I had no joy with the woad no matter what I did and in the end composted two vats.

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I tried a yeast vat.  It was quite something watching it fizz! In the end, I weakened and bought another package of colour run remover and rescued some indigo with that. between all these vats, I overdyed leaf prints I hadn’t liked much.  I dyed scraps and offcuts from old shirts that had been turned into drawstring bags.  I even tore up a very worn, patched and mended damask table cloth from the stash and dyed that.

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I achieved only soft blues, but soft blues are beautiful.

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I went to Allansford convinced that I was struggling with achieving reduction, and maintaining temperature, and quite possibly other things besides.  And it was really helpful to go, knowing this, and to be able to see that I had been aiming (mostly) at the right things, checking (mostly) the right things, and had some concepts right, but was applying them in wrong places.  It gave me a really strong sense of the limits of my own judgment.

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Some of the bits and pieces have already begun to re-form… a bit like my understanding of how to dye with indigo!

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And now to consolidate the indigo learning…

I came home from the summer dye camp at Beautiful Silks‘ Botanical Studios in Allansford determined to maximise my learning, and with an indigo dye kit in my bags.

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I teach for a living, and it’s very clear from watching other people learn that many underestimate the effort required to really build understanding and judgment.  Not that I don’t!!!  However–I try to be alert to this learning pitfall.  I decided that I’d make use of my last few days of holidays–and the very suitable warm weather–to try to make sure I could make use of the boost in confidence and understanding I received from Jenai Hooke in Allansford to move my dyeing forward.  First step: mixing up my starter.  I know–that’s what you say when you make bread.  Let’s admit between us that I’ve made more loaves of bread than indigo vats.

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I changed the container I was using for my vat and my strategy for keeping it at suitable temperatures, using ideas gleaned from Jenai and some creative problem solving.  I prepared my materials for dyeing properly.  Yes, that’s my reflection with the hat, looming over my soaking materials.

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In short–success!  And even better than that, I dyed over three days and returned the vat to happiness (technical language, this) after that as well.  I’d run out of fructose so decided to experiment with honey.  My beloved is on a low fructose diet so the fruits, vegetables and substances that contain most fructose have been quite a study at our house. Nevertheless, guessing is necessarily involved and I’ll have to do this again to be confident I understand what is taking place and can reproduce it.

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A friend brought a large scarf over and that had a very successful dyeing on the first really good day for dyeing in the vat.  I dyed a cotton scarf I brought home from Allansford too (it was white when I left Allansford).  I did a lot better on achieving a nice deep blue than I did before the workshop, and I was in no doubt extra dips deepened the colour, which had been something I felt didn’t always happen previously.

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As usual, I treated this whole process as an experiment which meant I dyed all kinds of bits and bobs of pre loved linen, overdyed things I thought could bear improvement, and dyed some bags, because bags.

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I cut out a pair of shorts from three tired old T-shirts headed for the rag bag and overdyed the pieces.  Finally, as the vat seemed to be exhausting, I turned the leftover t-shirt strips into yarn and overdyed them too.

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So–success!  I have definitely learned something about the fructose vat.  I know more about strategies for tyng and clamping fabrics for dyeing, even if I am still a beginner.

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Summer Dye Camp at Beautiful Silks

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Over the holidays, I went to a summer dye cap at the Botanical Studio run by Beautiful Silks, in Allansford (near Warrnambool) country Victoria.  I stayed in a cabin at one of the caravan parks by the beachfront in Warrnambool because the on site accommodation was booked out.  I haven’t been to Warrnambool since I was a child.  It was just beautiful.  The frisking around of many small people on skates and scooters and bikes had me in mind of childhood holidays at the beach.

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I arrived early and had beach walks and runs before dye camp each day and long strolls through town too.  My photos of scenery are a bit rubbish and really don’t reflect the glory.  Like me, my photos are largely focused on small lovelinesses such as lichen.

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After dark there was spinning and some experimental printing on paper.  Since I had the car to myself, I came with wheel and dye pot! I converted carding waste to yarn and knit some yarn bombs. One night I had a wonderful dinner with a couple of the other dye campers.  I taught one of them how to cast on a sock and how to turn a heel with short rows, and we talked blogging and dyeing and, well, everything.  Awesome and lovely.

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All round, it was a fabulous holiday.  But dye camp!  Dye camp was focused on indigo and woad.  We had Jenai Hooke from Eudlo in Queensland as our expert guide and instructor, and I learned so much.  There were some big fructose vats.  The method I really do want to learn. Perfect.  We learned how to start them, how to feed and tend them, how to dye in them.

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There was making of little vats so we could grasp the principles.

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There was a massive pot with leafy bundles in it. E Crenulata sent its spicy notes through us all on the first day.

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Who doesn’t love leafy bundles?? Some of my companions had brought along leaf printed samples, their own indigo dyeing, their hand made and dyed scarves and bags, samples of their wild and creative experiments in dyeing yarns, and of course their genius, skills, ideas and energy.  There was hand sewn and hand made clothing, spontaneous pattern drafting and people’s own clothing designs. There were three other women from Adelaide, hurrah! In short, I was among my people, and this seemed to be a shared feeling.

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There was ice-dyeing with fresh woad leaves.

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There was shibori.  Jenai is a shibori expert and teacher, and taught the basics to some of us with spectacular results (the others were too busy dyeing to stop for that!).  In short, there was dyeing.

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So much dyeing.  I could not believe the number of garments and other things that turned blue.  Light blue, mid blue, blue-black. Turquoise-green colours from the ice dyeing.   Oranges and browns from eucalypts.

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We ran out of drying space.

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I dyed bags.  I know, shocking.  I got deeper blues than before.  I believe I deepened my understanding. And it was good to be reminded of the complexity of the skills, the complexity of the process and the years of apprenticeship that would have been undertaken by historic dyers. A little humility is a good thing in the face of a large learning curve.

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I even dyed a linen shirt.  I pulled it out of the cupboard where clothes go awaiting reincarnation, and felt moved to try it on (it was an op shop find).  I decided it just needed a new button, and it was clamped and dyed and has been out in public several times already!

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Immense thanks to Marion Gorr and Elephant at Beautiful Silks for a wonderful learning opportunity and fabulous catering and company, and to Jenai Hooke for such wonderful education!

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More adventures in plant dyed embroidery

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I still have some upholstery fabric left from having some chairs re-covered.  It is natural linen, a lovely fabric.  I have been wondering what to do with it.  One day I went to an exhibition of Papunya artists in the City Gallery of Flinders University (on the ground floor of the State Library) and I came home longing to embroider.  I can’t exactly say why.  Perhaps it is partly that some of these glorious paintings are such clear manifestations of the principle that many tiny marks can make a whole that is sheer wonder.  I marvelled at the capacity of these artists to hold entire desert landscapes and the stories of these places in their minds, and from these to create spectacular images which somehow communicate the story and the place. Even if I cannot begin to grasp all that they might have in mind in creating these works, I can still stand in awe.

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I don’t need to be able to create wonder.  I don’t expect to, and I don’t mind.  But stitches are tiny.  Perhaps the immediate thing was simply the invitation to begin.

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These threads have been dyed with indigo, pansy, hibiscus and eucalyptus.  I love their subtlety and the slight sheen of the silk thread against the matte texture of the linen.  I love the effects of uneven dyeing, as it turns out.  Even dyeing is overrated!  Once I had decided I was done (which is a com0plicated thing in itself, I find), I settled on yet another bag.

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The lining is made of patchworked silk scraps dyed with all kinds of plants.

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And then, just because I can never make just one… I made another with a different piece of upholstery fabric and some scraps of recycled fabric of different weights.

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An outbreak of hats

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This is an oatmeal Blue Faced Leicester dyed by The Thylacine and spun three ply by me.

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It is rather fine, but I decided to knit a hat anyway and settled on one from Barbara Walker’s Knitting from the top, which is more of a concept plan than a pattern.  Perfect for handspun.  And then it turned out I could use the DPNs a friend surprised me by giving me a while back (I had helped her out with i-cord, and it was sheer pleasure, but I think that may have triggered the gift in some way).  They are a rather unusual size, delectably pretty and perfect for the job.

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While this hat was on the needles, I decided to cast on another in grey corriedale, dyed with eucalyptus and spun three ply and about 10 ply (worsted).  I made a rolled brim hat from Knitting for Peace. Easy and fast.  My picture taking was interrupted by our house guest, who turned out to be camera shy.

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At about this point, there was a hiatus and that first hat sat on the needles until holidays rolled around.  And then, there was an absolute outbreak that continued for some time after we returned from holidays.  There were some with oddments of experimental yarns (some early corespun in this case).

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Here is some handspun natural polwarth with some Noro sock yarn for contrast. Blocking wouldn’t hurt it a bit.

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Indigo dyes, logwood exhaust dye, eucalyptus bark dyes…

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Mohair, alpaca blend… you name it!  I even used up random commercial black yarn.

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I made some doll and bear hats. What else are oddments for?

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Then came the day I cast on with some super thick, super soft eucalyptus dyed wool of mystery and stopped.  Last night I managed to finish, finally.  I lashed out and blocked this one just to show I can.

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Most of these are Jared Flood’s Turn A Square.  More or less.  That first hat–I did finish it, and it was claimed by a friend while we were on holiday.  I don’t think she would really want her photo on the interwebs, so you’ll just have to trust me about it being finished.  However, half the skein remains so there may yet be a reprise. If I can ever bear to knit another hat!  I am the person doing all these repetitive series of makes, and even I find it hard to understand…

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Jaywalkers in osage orange and indigo

First, there was some undyed wool and silk yarn.

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Then, there was osage orange sawdust. The colour was so sunny and lovely I considered leaving it at that.  But there was an indigo plan.

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The fructose vat, no less.

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So one fine day there was  variegated yellow-green-green-blue yarn.  (Yes, that is madder on the left).

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Jaywalker seemed the obvious pattern for the job.  Here we are at the bus stop after work.

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And at a coffee shop waiting for a delicate operation to be performed on my guitar across the road.

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And out for dinner at the central markets with our friends.

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We even went to a conference in Melbourne.

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This Melbourne arcade was so splendid I took photos just for the pleasure of it.

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Here is the sock in the foyer of the unglamorous conference venue, with its best feature (the flower arrangement).

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And here, at last, are the finished socks!

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I like the way this pattern zigs and zags.

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I like to use a reinforced heel stitch.

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And I’m pretty happy with the dyeing.  Hopefully the recipient will like them too when she returns from her current extended travelling.  They’re going in the mail today, with about 2 metres of leftover yarn.  Phew!  Just made it!

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For the love of simple embroidery

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This is the last in my series of three little bags rendered much more lovely through embroidery (and indigo).

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I have been really surprised to find that I can embroider on the bus (and of course, at the bus stop).  Admittedly, there is nothing complex about my embroidery!

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Also, it is easier than I thought to travel with simple embroidery, once you decide that is what you want to do. I have been tucking a reel of thread or two into the bag along with an old dental floss sample (for the cutter), digging my needle into the work, and wrapping the whole lot around the needle.  Then into bag or pocket and we are away.

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It has slowed down the public transport sock knitting somewhat.  But I am back to the regularly scheduled public transport socks now!

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I ended up virtually covering this bag in stitches dyed with indigo, indigofera australis, plum pine, eucalyptus, osage orange and random other local plant experiments.  I realise this is super simple embroidery… but for most of my life I would not have considered doing it, and nor would I have thought it possible I would enjoy it.  I do love the plant dyed threads.  I have enjoyed turning this lowly calico bag from a container for soap nuts into something worth looking at twice.  But I think I have to credit India Flint, Roz Hawker, Jude Hill and Isobel McGarry with persuading me that hand stitching is pleasurable and worthwhile.  Not that they were trying to do this…  But sometimes people rub off on one another, in a good way, even at considerable distance!

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